Lack of “dry mix foldback”, can ruin your singing

Baji J. Ram Rao
23:30 +0530 Wed. 25-Jan-2014

On the night of Sat. 25-Jan-2014, in my gated community of villas in Chembur, we had a troupe of singers who performed with a professional orchestra.

The orchestra was arranged by Nandu Kerkar, an arranger I know since participating in a Rotary dist. musical talent show at Chowpatty, Bombay, in 1991.
The orchestra comprised a Roland D-50, a Roland XP-60, Roland octapad, tabla, dholki, tumbadora, a reso-reso, an axatse, an electric guitar, an accordion and some other percussion instruments.

Nandu Kerkar Orchestra
Nandu Kerkar on the Roland D-50, Jaiprakash Wadkar on the Roland XP-60, Arun Kerkar on the electric guitar and Dinesh Jadhav on the accordeon.

[Image info: Nokia 808 PureView, has a Carl-Zeiss 8.02mm f/2.4 (35mm FX equiv.: 26mm) lens, ISO:320, shutter:1/33s, f/2.4, light src.:flash] -- 19:33:16 Sat. 25-Jan-2014, at Mysore Colony (19.0318374N, 72.8904171E).


Towards the end of the troupe’s program, I sang a duet cover with a neighbor, Sangeeta Pai, accompanied by the orchestra.
The song was, “धीरे धीरे चल, चाँद गगन में” from the movie, Love Marriage(1959). Lyrics by Hasrat Jaipuri and original music by Shankar Jaikishan.

It was an open air event with high powered speakers for the audience.
We had one foldback monitor on the stage on the left side of the audience from the spectator’s viewpoint facing the stage -- and it was barely working.
There was no room for the right side foldback monitor, so it was stowed away on the grass below the 4-foot tall stage. And I was standing on the right side of the stage.

The dry mix foldback was dismally poor or entirely absent and I could not hear my own voice over the loud band, depending only on the naturally reflected, delayed and distorted sound.
Deafened thus, my singing went a trifle off-tune and maybe a quaver, behind time with the orchestra. It was so embarrassing.
The orchestra corrected to accommodate me and most of the audience did not notice, but people close to me, such as my wife:Amita and my neighbor: Padma, who had previous exposure to my level of proficiency, did.

May I take this opportunity to apologize to them and to offer this explanation/excuse.
It’s also a good time to caution other greenhorn singers like myself to test out the sound system before performing live before an audience, and even more so, when open air.

What is foldback?

Foldback is the use of stage monitors -- wedge-shaped rear-facing monitor loudspeakers on stage during live music performances.
The amplified sound is fed to speakers, aimed at the on-stage performers rather than the audience.
This sound signal for this monitor system may be produced on the same mixing console as the front of house (FOH) mix meant for the audience.

Without a foldback system, the onstage singer would hear the delayed and distorted, reverberated reflections from the rear wall of the venue, causing them to sing out of time with the band.
The performers need to hear a “dry mix” -- a mix without electronic FX such as echo and reverb to stay in time and in tune with each other. Such a separate mixed signal is routed to the foldback speakers.
In situations with poor or absent foldback mixes, vocalists easily end up singing off-tune or out of time with the band.

The first recorded time, when a loudspeaker was used specifically for foldback, was for Judy Garland at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium on 13-Sep-1961.
It was provided by McCune Sound Service. The first mixer designed expressly for foldback monitor duties was designed by Bob Cavin, then engineer at McCune Sound.
Cavin also designed the first stage monitor loudspeaker that had two different listening angles, for performers standing at the loudspeaker and for performers further away.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, most monitor speaker cabinets used an external power amp.
In the 1990s and 2000s, clubs increasingly used powered monitors with integrated power amplifiers. Most monitor speakers include an L-pad for controlling the volume of the horn.

This L-pad is a special configuration of potentiometers to control volume while maintaining a constant load impedance on the audio amp. output.
It consists of a parallel and series resistor in an “L” configuration. As one increases in resistance, the other decreases, thus maintaining a constant impedance, at least in one direction. To maintain constant impedance in both directions, a “T” pad must be used.
In loudspeakers one need only maintain impedance to the frequency crossover, avoiding shifting the crossover point.

Another trend of the 2000s was the blurring of the demarkation between monitor and regular speaker cabinets.
Many companies now sell wedge-shaped full-range speakers usable for either monitors or main FOH purposes.